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Published: December 10th 2008
We stepped out of our hostel into the hustle and bustle of a busy street filled with people, cars, rickshaws, Bollywood music and the air infused with incense and spices. We stopped off at a street cafe for some roti canai, a savoury bread dipped in a variety of colourful, spicy and fragrant sauces. We strolled around the corner to find a beautiful Hindu temple, incongruent with the modern office blocks and skyscrapers in the distant skyline. Taking off our shoes we entered into the temple to be dazzled by the striking images of the various deities, people placing offerings around the temple of fruits and flowers and incense as the orange robed priests blessed others, it was a lively place yet the cool floors and scented air gave the temple a serene atmosphere. This is not India but Little India in Singapore, here we spent a quick stopover before we crossed the border to Malaysia. Singapore is one big melting pot of cultures from around the world with modernity and tradition living side by side. This is displayed in the fashions, architecture and lifestyles of its citizens giving us a flavour of what is to come in the rest of
South East Asia.
Crossing the border into Malaysia we stopped in Malacca, a large city on the West coast. We enjoyed three days here mostly just wandering the streets while taking a break from the intense heat in the cool air conditioned shopping complexes...we were still to adjust to the temperatures here, after a short walk we found ourselves drenched in sweat and exhausted. This time the highlight was Chinatown which is very well preserved here, the narrow streets are filled with restaurants and shops selling everything from antiques to shiny silk kimonos. We stumbled across an ancient Taoist temple which turned out to be Malaysia's oldest Chinese temple built in 1646, it was ornately decorated with dragons painted in bold reds and golds, and beautiful drapes covered in elegant Chinese script. One day as we walked off a delicious and cheap lunch of 'chicken rice ball' we saw a small crowd of people peering down into the river from the bridge. Looking into the water we were shocked and stunned to see two huge Kimono Dragons wrestling with one another in the murky depths, we then noticed more of these fearsome looking creatures sunning themselves on the riverbank!.
Another unexpected David Attenborough moment!
Next we visited the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. KL is easily the most modern and cutting edge city we have visited so far. The huge city's skyline is punctured with sparkling glass-fronted highrises and gravity defying skyscrapers and is lined with grand avenues of carefully kept parks and gardens. You can easily get lost in the gigantic megamalls, which are full of all the latest gadgets and technology. The cities different zones are linked by efficient transport systems such as the skyline monorail. However as seems typical of Malaysia you can also find a more sedate pace in the back streets, as indian restaurants sit alongside mosques and massage parlours. We enjoyed visits up to the 41st floor of the Petronas Towers and to the viewing deck of the Menara telecommunications tower (276m high) at night. Both good fun allowing us fantastic views of the sprawling city below.
Our third and final stop on our flying visit of Malaysia was the Cameron Highlands, a high area of cool forest clad mountains. The journey into the misty mountains was full of twists and turns, however the gorgeous scenery made up for this, the
dense forest lay like a sea of green below us. As we stepped off the bus in the small town of Tanah Rata we were immediately struck by the change in temperature, brrrr it was chilly!! Shivering we remarked at the strange sensation of having goosebumps after the searing heat of the sweaty South. We quickly dug our fleeces out from the depths of our backpacks. We stayed in a fantastic hostel here called Father's Guesthouse which is perched up on a hill overlooking the impressive valley below. The hostel also had a lovely restaurant bedecked in flowers run by one talented but grumpy chef. We explored the area on local bus visiting the Sungai Palas Tea Estate, where we enjoyed a long walk into the Tea Estate through the emerald green fields of tea plants which continued as far as the eye could see. The path was strewn with pretty wild flowers with butterflies fluttering by. The walk ended up being longer than expected but once again we didn't mind as it was a joy to walk through such lush scenery. Before turning back we had the obligatory cup of chai at the estate cafe overlooking the tea plantations.
Tony & Tea!
The following day we went for a trek through the nearby jungle, following the river as it meandered through the tall trees. We tried to tread quietly and stay vigilant in the hope of spotting some wildlife but despite our efforts we didn't see anything, the monkeys were too shy that day. It was a hard trek as the path often disappeared under the huge roots of the trees as the dense jungle closed in around us, but we reached our destination in a wee village after a few hours of walking. As we waited for the bus back to Tanah Rata we stopped at a ramshackle roadside cafe for a cold drink. Unfortunately we waited and waited but no bus appeared, when we asked the locals what time the bus was due they gave a laugh and replied 'anytime.' After waiting over half an hour we decided to walk back via the road and flag down the bus if it passed. But before long a friendly man pulled over and gave us a lift back into town, maybe he was a bit worried about two foreigners walking in the middle of nowhere? Nevertheless we were soon back at
the hostel wrapped up in our fleeces and enjoying a nice cuppa before the sunset.
We have really enjoyed our short time in Malaysia, it is a fascinating and beautiful country, it is a shame we could not visit Borneo and some of the islands but one thing we have learned while traveling is that you can't do it all! The world simply holds too many alluring places...
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